Standing between a scanner of charged particle beams (left) and a chamber performing vacuum leak test for the many processes occuring under high vacuum are Thomas Stewart

The power of physics —Federal budget mention for Nelson technology firm

Tucked away above a bustling Baker Street is a little office conducting world-class physics engineering.

Tucked away above a bustling Baker Street is a little office conducting world-class physics engineering.

D-Pace, Inc. is a worldwide provider of state of the art engineering products and services for the particle accelerator industry. And earlier this month, the company got a mention tucked among the 427 pages of the federal budget.

On page 121, one might assume the paragraph mentioning D-Pace may have been easily missed. It was Dave Potkins, one of five owners who learned of the reference from a friend who works on the Thirty Meter Telescope project which is “totally government-funding dependent.”

“He watches it constantly. He phoned up and said ‘how the heck did you guys get mentioned in the budget yet we’ve got this $250 million project and we weren’t mentioned at all,’” said Potkins who replied. “I have no idea.”

Morgan Dehnel, president of D-Pace, says that support of physics research and development is a governmental priority that breaks through partisan ties. Dehnel suggests D-Pace had their name in the budget because of their close ties with TRIUMF, a BC physics lab, set to benefit from $222 million from the Economic Action Plan 2014 over five years starting in 2015.

Staying on top of developments in the world of physics has value on an international science stage. For instance, Canada’s nuclear reactor in Chalk River provided 40 per cent of the world’s medical radio-isotopes, such as technetium.

“It’s a huge industry but our reactor is due to be decommissioned and closed down,” says Dehnel. Money has been put toward TRIUMF, for example, to develop an alternate way, using particle accelerators, which are much smaller and cheaper than nuclear reactors, to produce technetium which can be used in lieu of the reactor produced technetium.

“I think the government probably feels pretty good about the fact that the money they’re putting towards the accelerator mechanism or way of producing technetium seems to be a good thing,” says Dehnel. “That’s been coming along and we’ve benefitted from that, done work in that area.”

Research and development is a risky venture, both for D-Pace customers and the company itself. If they were to sell some of their inventions at retail price, they’d likely barely break even.

“Of course, we’re conducting business,” he says. “We get sales but because we’ve had almost no capital, money kicking around to develop things, properly make them, test them and calibrate them… how do you come out with new products when you don’t have a lot of money?”

“In this industry, our customers understand a lot of this is cutting edge… most of the things we sell have actually never been made before. Often it may not work exactly right and there is a lot of risk involved,” says Dehnel. Product testing is a luxury “We hope we’re getting there.”

Through government funds and programs, they’re rewarded for their research and development efforts.

D-Pace has licensed an ion-source technology for particle accelerators, through TRIUMF — one of many technologies. From ion implantation to make computer chips or radiation processing to sterilize medical equipment, there are about 10 different sectors that use accelerators.

“Again, that’s funded by the public, through the government, through TRIUMF,” he says. “And because we’ve licensed from them we provide royalties back again and we’re pretty proud of that.”

These royalties go to educational or research institutions in Canada such as TRIUMF.

In Nelson since 1995, D-Pace is growing in part due to its research and licensing partnership with TRIUMF. From 2005 to 2009, the company “doubled its revenues” in each year, “increased its employment base and expanded its customer portfolio internationally.” And this evidence of growth was mentioned in the federal budget.

There are currently five owners: Potkins, Dehnel and his brothers Kent and Kurt Dehnel, and Thomas Stewart as well as a few employees. They also hire out a lot of work to sub-contractors locally, provincially and globally.

TRIUMF isn’t the only facility D-Pace partners with. They’ve licensed technology from both Finnish and South Korean universities. They’ve also just been approved for $140,000 in funding from the National Research Council.

“We hope to be significantly bigger in the next few years,” says Dehnel.

The D-Pace office space is becoming more and more crowded with pieces of equipment the average person couldn’t make sense of.

“Little did you know…” says Dehnel,

Employee Joe Theroux says trying to explain the ins and outs of the particle accelerator industry can get overwhelming in social situations.

“I avoid it,” he says with a smile. “It’s easier to keep it secret. I usually just say I work at an engineering firm downtown.”

At the moment D-Pace has clients in USA, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, India, Argentina, France, Belgium, and Finland.

 

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